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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Broadband comes to rural New York"
ALBANY, July 28 -- The Legislative Commission on Rural Resources (LCRR), on which I currently serve as a member, believes that the availability of high-speed Internet is the gateway to economic, educational and other fundamental successes for communities across rural, Upstate New York, as well as across the nation and around the world.
Each of our regional economic development councils, those representing the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, has highlighted the importance of broadband development as a key building block of the future. For example, the need for modern telemedicine capabilities is highlighted by the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council in its final report, which states that telemedicine-based initiatives “will reduce hospitalizations, create Medicare and Medicaid savings, eliminate transportation issues and disintegration of services for elderly and low-income populations” and provide cost-effective alternatives and reduced health care costs for rural residents.
That’s just one example, but it’s one that that our Rural Resources Commission is particularly interested in. We view it as a potentially groundbreaking achievement in rural health care. The Senate approved legislation this session to try to create more opportunities for patients, particularly in rural areas, to utilize telehealth and telemedicine services. The Cuomo administration has expressed its willingness to explore the development of a more extensive statewide “telemedicine/telehealth network,” and this overall effort will remain one ongoing focus of the Rural Resources Commission.
Nearly three years ago, the New York State Broadband Development and Deployment Council (www.nysbroadband.ny.gov) set forth the following mission: “Broadband has not fully arrived for all New Yorkers. Overcoming the digital divide to become a national and global leader for broadband availability, capacity, and adoption will be challenging…To help New York remain competitive on a national and global scale, proactive executive leadership, strong policy mandates, and clear broadband guidelines will ensure broadband networks are widely deployed, affordable and accessible to all New Yorkers.”
In those three years, our region has made amazing progress. The Southern Tier Network (STN) has completed an open-access dark fiber network across Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties and earlier this year was recognized at the State Broadband Summit with an Economic Leadership Award for “successful implementation of innovative, economically promising projects or programs in a community or region that enhance New York’s social and economic fabric, and quality of life for its residents.” High-speed connections are already in place across the region, and other service providers are expanding their services and providing affordable broadband services using STN’s fiber. We are already seeing the use of the telehealth and telemedicine applications supported by the Rural Resources Commission.
Besides what has already been accomplished by STN, they will also receive a $5 million state grant from the Southern Tier Economic Development Council to extend their dark fiber backbone into Broome and Tioga counties, while also reaching into Tompkins and Allegany counties to connect Cornell, Alfred and Binghamton universities for education, research and economic development. Yates County has also been awarded a state grant to build a fiber network that will connect to STN and to Axcess Ontario in Ontario County, increasing the reach and opportunities for all.
Similarly important access enhancements are ongoing in Tompkins County, which has just been recognized as one of the country’s leading digital counties by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties (http://www.digitalcommunities.com/survey/counties).
There are so many ways this technology is changing our methods of doing business. Another piece of legislation approved by both houses of the Legislature this year, for instance, speaks to the increasing value of broadband to state farmers.
The legislation, which will be delivered to the governor to be signed into law, calls for a joint study between the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the State Broadband Program Office on the value of “precision agriculture” to farmers, most specifically its economic benefits to farm operations and its importance to sustaining environmental quality. Farmers who utilize precision agriculture systems, which require global positioning services and, thus, broadband, improve the efficiency of their operations, cut costs, lead to potentially lower prices for consumers, enhance food safety and protect the environment. If enacted, the new law requires a state-level report on precision agriculture and recommendations on improving the necessary broadband accessibility to implement it.
As we move further into the 21st century, there are increasingly critical reasons to close the digital divide -- particularly in rural, Upstate New York -- and we welcome the public-private partnerships that are accomplishing this goal, enabling the citizens of these communities to access the expanding broadband and telecommunications infrastructure that will strengthen our economy and improve health care, education and public safety across our region.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869